America’s Confederate Soldiers Play Fascinating Roles in Belize’s History
The story of how U.S. Confederate soldiers came to make Belize their homes is a fascinating chronicle of innovation and determination.
History buffs who have never heard the name Donald C. Simmons Jr. may want to know more about this Renaissance man. Though not yet 60-years-old, his successful careers include author, filmmaker, social justice advocate, clergyman, contractor, baseball player, coach, university dean, newspaper columnist, city councilman and TV sports commentator.
But Simmons’ longest-lasting legacy is likely to be the seminal, groundbreaking book he wrote about a little-known slice of history that tells a rarely-discussed, post-U.S. Civil War tale. Simmons chronicled the migration of Confederate soldiers to British Honduras, now Belize, simply because everyone there spoke the King’s English.
Details of this historical record began in 1864, about 100 years before Simmons was born. Confederate soldiers, fearful of capture and punishment from victorious Yankees, headed south in search of new lives after their lands had been destroyed by the war. Some went to Brazil, but the language proved a barrier. That’s why so many choose British Honduras as their new homeland and the first parties of homesteaders settled near Punta Gorda.
Based on an existing relationship with the British–motives for selling weapons to Confederate soldiers were purely financial—a link already existed between the Central American nation and members of the Confederate army. In fact, the governor of British Honduras and other officials were eager to recruit these southerners for their cotton and sugar cultivation expertise.
All the while, General Robert E. Lee and U.S. government officials urged members of the Confederacy not to go south—but with so little left of their homes and the dissolution of southern society as they knew it—going to this Caribbean country offered too much promise to be ignored. Eager to fit into a new society, transplanted Confederate soldiers set about improving the land as a welcoming government offered tax incentives to those eager to immigrate.
Former soldiers dug wells with machetes and axes, assessed broad areas of land using an efficient North American survey system, carved a 60-foot-wide swath of land into a major road and established 16 plantations. San Antonio Road and a network of smaller roads still exist today, connecting Punta Gorda to the District’s largest Maya settlement and other Belize hubs.
Gradually losing the allegiance they formerly swore to General Lee and his armed forces, generations of American Confederate soldiers remained in British Honduras long enough to see their descendants become part of the nation’s fiber. They witnessed the day the Brits finally relinquished their claim to the area. Given so unique a history, it’s easy to see why Simmons found this era fascinating and why he wrote, “Confederate Settlements in British Honduras.”
This non-fiction work is a valuable addition to the library of anyone eager to know more about Belize during this era. It was published in 2001 and remains a classic, so if you’re intrigued, ask your librarian for a copy or order it for yourself at https://www.amazon.com/Confederate-Settlements-British-Honduras-Simmons/dp/0786410167.
Photo courtesy: Wikipedia